The Plug-in Hybrid powertrain electrifies Vauxhall's Astra. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second Review
Vauxhall's Astra Plug-in Hybrid offers family hatch customers undecided about the switch into full-EV motoring an appealing interim option. There's a useful EAER-rated electric driving range of up to 42 miles, fashionable looks, fast battery replenishment times and an eager petrol engine for longer trips. Plus an estate model option if you want something a whole lot more practical than an SUV. Sounds promising.
In the automotive world, EVs are in everyone's thoughts right at present. And if not EVs, then SUVs. Yet there remains a significant group of motorists who don't want either of these things. They see the need for electrification, but they don't want the limitations of an EV. They share a desire for a more fashionable family car, but for them, that isn't delivered by an SUV. For these people, Vauxhall's Astra Plug-in Hybrid, could be ideal.
It competes in the growing PHEV sub-sector of the family hatchback segment, started by the Golf GTE and now also populated by Plug-in Hybrid versions of the Peugeot 308 and the DS 4. Plus if you've more to spend, PHEV versions of the Audi A3 and the Mercedes A-Class. Lots of choice in the class then. Why would you select this Astra in preference? Let's take a look.
There's very much an EV-style feel here thanks to the way that, like most plug-in hybrids, this one reverts to electric power as long as there is charge in its battery. This means you start up and pull off in impressive silence, plus manoeuvring at low speeds and most of your town work will also be done emissions-free. The powertrain on offer here is the usual one that the Stellantis Group fits to its plug-in models, a 1.6 litre turbo petrol unit producing 148bhp allied to a single electric motor delivering the same output, the combined maximum in the mainstream Hybrid 180 variant being 178bhp and 360Nm of torque. There's an 8-speed auto gearbox and the electric motor is powered by a 12.4kWh battery which with the 180PS powertrain we're trying here, Vauxhall reckons can take the car up to 42 miles (EAER-rated) on electricity alone - and all the way up to an EV top speed of 84mph. For that, there's a dedicated pure electric mode.
Shift out of that and employ the engine and rest to 62mph can be dispatched in 9.3 seconds on the way to a top speed of 140mph. If you want to go faster, you can talk to your dealership about the pricier, more powerful Hybrid 225 variant, which offers 225PS and has to be had with sporty GSe trim, featuring lowered, stiffer suspension. The GSe 225 variant gets to 62mph in 7.7 seconds and has a 40 mile EV range. Either way, the PHEV powertrain adds quite a bit of weight to this car's EMP2 platform, but that shouldn't be particularly obvious unless you really start throwing car about.
Design and Build
Unless you happen to notice the extra charging flap or the different badging, there's no real way to guess that this is a Plug-in hybrid Astra. Which is entirely as most customers will want. Present and correct in both hatch and Sports Tourer estate versions of this more striking looking eighth generation model is the 'Vizor'-style front end that in recent times has been adopted for the brand's Mokka and Grandland SUVs. It's flanked by sparkling LED headlights, upgraded at the top of the range to 'Intellilux' status, which gives each lamp 84 individual LED elements. There are also larger wheel arches housing bigger rims of 16 to 18 inches. Size-wise, at 4,374mm long and 1,860mm wide, this MK8 Astra is fractionally longer than its predecessor, but sits 15mm lower.
It's radically different inside too, thanks to the introduction of Vauxhall's 'Pure Panel' design, which banishes buttons and is based around sophisticated 10-inch centre dash and instrument screens. The centre monitor incorporates 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring and there's the option of a Head-up display. There's no longer a conventional handbrake - just a small switch; and for the automatic gearbox, you get a sliding selector in place of the usual stick, which frees up space for extra storage and an additional cup holder. A 13mm increase in wheelbase length has improved space for rear seat passengers. And provides for a larger cargo area, though that falls in size with this Plug-in model from 422 to 352-litres. With the Sports Tourer estate, the reduction is from 608 to 548-itres.
Market and Model
As usual with a PHEV, there's quite a price premium to pay for being able to plug-in. At the time of our test in early 2023, pricing for the mainstream 180PS Plug-in Hybrid model started at just over £37,000 for a hatch with 'GS' trim. Just over £40,000 got you the choice of the 180PS version of this powerplant with plush 'Ultimate' spec or the 225PS version of this powertrain with sporty 'GSe' trim. There's also a Sports Tourer estate Plug-in Hybrid variant, offered at an extra £1,200 premium, but that's only available with base 'GS' spec. For reference, these prices represent around £8,000 more than you'd pay for a petrol auto Astra - or around £7,000 more than a diesel auto model.
Still, on any plug-in Astra, you can expect plenty of equipment for the money, with features like full-LED headlights, digital instrument dials and standard 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring for the centre dash screen. You'll now be able to specify your Astra with larger wheels - up to 18-inches in diameter - and even an optional 2-tone paint finish.
The front seats, developed in-house, are certified by the AGR (a German organisation who campaign for healthier backs) and claim to be exceedingly comfortable for long journeys. The driver is supported by state-of-the-art assistance systems ranging from the 'Intelli-HuD' head-up display to the semi-automated 'Intelli-Drive' assistance system and the 'Intelli-Vision' 360-degree camera. And the brand expects the intelligent 'Intellilux' headlights to be frequently specified option. These use state-of-the-art LED pixel lights. There's also extended traffic sign recognition, rear cross-traffic alert and active lane positioning, which keeps the car in the middle of the driving lane.
Cost of Ownership
As we mentioned in our 'Driving Experience' section, up to 42 miles of EAER-rated battery running is claimed from this Astra Hybrid 180PS model (it's up to 40 miles for the 225PS 'GSe' version), while CO2 is rated at between 23-25g/km. This means an affordable 8% BiK tax rating. There's the usual rather fictitious 3-figure PHEV combined cycle fuel reading - in this case 256mpg for both versions. You can maximise efficiency by regular activation of the provided 'B' gearbox button, which emphasises regenerative braking, harvesting energy as you cruise or brake to replenish the battery.
From a household plug, both Astra Plug-in Hybrid variants can be replenished in five and a half hours. Plug into a 3.6 KW home wall box or public charger and replenishment will take three and a half hours. Connected up to 7kW home wall box or public charger, you can reduce that to an hour and 55 minutes. If you do have a 7kW home wall box, it would make sense to pay Vauxhall the extra £500 it wants to upgrade the car's standard 3.7kW on-board charger to 7kW status - which would halve the vehicle charging time. So that you don't have to use valuable charging energy with the climate fan cooling or heating the interior when you first get into the vehicle, the Astra Plug-in Hybrid offers a thermal pre-conditioning function. Insurance for the 180PS Plug-in Hybrid models lies between 26E-28E. It's group 31E for the 225PS 'GSe' variant.
Rather against the odds given its vanilla history and current shared Stellantis Group engineering, this Astra Plug-in Hybrid stands out as arguably the most interesting choice in its class. To drive, it's obviously not that much different to the Peugeot 308 and DS 4 models that share its PHEV powertrain, but this Vauxhall's stylish to look at and avant-garde to sit in. Decades of company reps could never have imagined that one day, an Astra would be like this.
They'd never have imagined that an Astra would cost over £40,000 either, but if you can make that figure work for you (or your company accountant), then all the other stats add up very nicely, particularly those relating to efficiency. The Astra has evolved. And if you want to see by just how much, then try one of these.